Letís imagine this scenario:
Your good friend Trish calls you upset. ďIím such an idiot,Ē she says. ďI was in a huge hurry to get to a meeting at work, so I backed out of the driveway really fast. I wasnít paying attention, and I ran right over the mailbox. It destroyed the mailbox and put a huge dent in the back bumper of my car. Iím such a moron!Ē
Take a moment to think about how you would respond. What might you say to Trish? Would you say:
ďWow, Trish, youíve lived in that house for ten years. Had you not noticed where the mailbox is? What a dunce!Ē
Or would you be more likely to say:
ďTrish, donít talk like that. Everybody makes mistakes. Donít be so hard on yourself!Ē
Iím willing to bet that you would say the second option. Because you would never be so hard on your friend as she is on herself.
Now imagine yourself in Trishís place. How angry would you be at yourself for making this mistake? What would you say to yourself?
Every day people share their inner dialogues with me. I hear the harsh insults that people hurl at themselves.
How could I be such a fool?
Iím more trouble than I am good.
Iím a bad person.
Why canít I learn?
These are comments that perfectly lovely and fine people say to themselves when they make mistakes. These perfectly lovely people would never say anything like that to a friend, a child, a spouse, or anyone for that matter. Letís see how the above comments come across when directed outward at another person, rather at oneself. Imagine saying these sentences to a friend.
How could you be such a fool?
Youíre more trouble than you are good.
Youíre a bad person.
Why canít you learn?
Imagine the damage these comments would do to a friend or spouse, and to your relationship with him or her. That is the damage that you are doing to yourself when you say these things to yourself.
There is a particular group of people who are more prone to treating themselves so harshly. I have observed that it is usually folks who grew up lacking a parent who calmly, fairly and evenly talked them through their mistakes when they were growing up. I call this Compassionate Accountability. Compassionate Accountability is holding yourself accountable for your misstep while also having compassion for yourself. When you grow up with such guidance, you internalize it and use it all throughout your life.
Such a parent says to her child during a moment of Compassionate Accountability: ďEveryone makes mistakes sometimes. Letís figure out what you did wrong here and how to prevent this mistake in the future. Letís learn from this mistake, let go of it and move on.Ē
From these few short sentences, this fortunate child is learning the vital life lessons that make up Compassionate Accountability. She is learning how to keep her own mistakes in perspective; that they are not the end of the world and that everyone makes them. She is learning that it is possible to learn from her mistakes and that there is no point in dwelling on them. Beyond that, this child is internalizing her motherís (or fatherís) voice. Over time, it will become her own inner voice which will talk her through all of the mistakes which she will make throughout her life.
If you were raised by a parent who, for whatever reason, was not able to provide you with this even, reasonable, accountable yet forgiving voice, you may have to develop it for yourself as an adult. Here are some tips to help you:
1. Become aware of when you say damaging things to yourself. If you can, it really helps keep a sheet of paper with you and write down every mean thing you catch yourself saying. Awareness is the first step to changing it.
2. Focus upon compassion. Strive to have the same compassion for yourself that you have for the other people in your life.
3. When you make a mistake, make a conscious effort to talk yourself through it. Ask yourself these questions: What can I learn from this? How can I prevent this in the future? Then put the mistake behind you and move on.
4. Follow this rule: Donít say anything to yourself that you wouldnít say to a friend.
To learn more about Compassionate Accountability, see my book, Running on Empty. Below is a link to Running on Empty on Amazon.
Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect